Beyer unopposed in 4th sees more work to be done
Editor's note: This is the final in a series of profiles about Durham County Board of Education candidates.
District 4 incumbent Natalie Beyer is running unopposed, and has generally received a nod of approval in all quarters.
The Herald-Sun asked Beyer to answer five questions we believe will provide insight into how she will govern if re-elected to the school board on May 6.
Her responses appear below.
Name: Natalie Beyer
Employment: Board of Education, Durham Public Schools, & Assistant, Smith & Associates
Education: BA (Behavioral Science/English) from Rice University and MHA (Financial Management/International Health) from UNC Chapel Hill School of Public Health
1. If elected to the school board, what would be your top priorities?
-- Empower a rapid task-force to listen to teachers and develop recommendations to improve teacher retention.
-- Empower SIT teams and school leadership to assume more autonomy for school-based programs, professional development, testing and budgeting.
-- Encourage all Durham families to choose Durham Public Schools for their children and become fully engaged partners with our community schools.
2. Durham Public Schools’ high rate of suspensions, particularly of black and Hispanic males, has been the subject of several recent “community conversations.” Share your ideas to curb the suspension rate.
The DPS Code of Student Conduct was revised in 2011 following an extensive effort to overhaul and improve North Carolina’s school discipline laws. This nonpartisan effort prohibits “zero tolerance” policies and was initiated by the Duke Children’s Law Clinic. The district’s revised policy requires administrators to consider aggravating and mitigating factors when determining the consequences for violations of the Code of Conduct. The consequences for Level IV and Level V infractions are set by state legislation and any changes to those would require revision of state laws.
The DPS board has recently asked our administrative team to contract with an external researcher to analyze our district’s suspension data, especially regarding more minor discipline issues and any racial or socio-economic disparities with specific attention to EC students. This analysis, coupled with community input, will inform future policy and procedure revisions. DPS Policy 4303 “Suspension and Expulsion” states that “the board encourages the use of in-school alternatives as preferable to out of school suspension.” DPS needs more in-school alternatives and programs such as Second Chance Academy and Lakeview. The district is also conducting a gap analysis to identify additional areas for increased training, more support for positive behavior programs, additional student supports and the potential for new programs such as restorative justice.
3. Do you think high-achieving students in Durham Public Schools are sufficiently challenged? Explain your answer.
At the dinner table my husband and I like to ask our children “what challenged you today?” This has led to great conversations about thoughtful collaborative work, hands-on learning and critical thinking within Durham Public Schools. The district is doing a lot but we can always improve and do more to increase academic challenges for high-achieving students. Over the past several years, Durham Public Schools has made a deliberate effort to screen, identify, nurture and serve Academically and Intellectually Gifted students. Over 19 percent of DPS students qualify for AIG services. Because the state only provides funding for about 4 percent of our students, the majority of our AIG services are funded through local funding. State funding formulas need to be modified to support all of our high-achieving students. Many of our regular classroom teachers are AIG certified or National Board certified. These professional development initiatives better prepare our teachers with skills to challenge all students.
4. What do you think is the proper role of charter schools in the Durham community?
North Carolina’s current charter school legislation and policies are flawed. In most states, charter schools are authorized by local boards of education and thus charter schools operate more like magnet schools within a local school district. If North Carolina legislation allowed this, the Durham Board of Education could work to ensure that charter schools in Durham were fair and open to all by providing transportation, free meals and eliminating any other barriers to admission. This would benefit taxpayers because there would be locally elected governance, accountability, better planning, decreased duplication of services and more support for low-performing charter schools. The current law creates a competitive environment rather than a collaborative one, and underperforming charter schools have been insufficiently monitored and rarely closed. I advocate for strengthening North Carolina’s charter school laws and procedures and I oppose out-of-state, for-profit management companies and for-profit virtual charter schools.
5. What qualities would you like to see in the next superintendent?
As the board hires a new superintendent, community involvement is critical. The board needs to hear from teachers, parents, principals, DPS staff, community leaders and all interested citizens. Durham’s superintendent should have a background in education and a commitment to Durham. Qualities such as integrity, humility and collaborative leadership are critical along with a willingness to advocate for policies and laws that value and respect students and teachers.